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IPv6 in the age of IoT

In my last article, I discussed how the onslaught of billions of connected devices coming in the next few years necessitates the creation of a naming structure which can accommodate the eventual shift toward IPv6 addressing.

The internet of things in general will drive the adoption of IPv6 on a wide scale. According to a Gartner report, 25 billion “things” will be connected to the internet by the year 2020. With this many new IoT devices entering the market each year, connectability — i.e., allowing network-connected devices to “speak” to each other — is vital. In this article, I’d like to expand upon that concept and offer some predictions for how IoT will evolve in an IPv6 internet environment.

Every device will have an IP address. Currently, we have enough IPv6 addresses to give every human in the world 65 million addresses of their own. This is one of the main reasons why IPv6 is such an important innovation — it gives IoT products a platform to continue operating on for a long time.

What people might not realize is that IPv6 has been around for 20 years. What brought it more to the forefront more recently was the need for additional security measures. (IPv6 is natively ready for IP security. More than a namespace, IPv6 offers a way to securely transport data natively versus with an additional protocol.) Recently, many enterprises and service providers have doubled down on IPv6 for this reason. You might compare this sudden adoption to that of air bags being added to vehicles. General Motors tested air bags in vehicles as an experiment in 1973. It wasn’t until the 1990s that they became mandatory. Why? For people’s security.

An average home router gives the user about 255 addresses within namespace. All devices that are talking within the home network use the same IPv4 or IPv6 host address to get to the internet. As the name implies, the router is responsible for routing traffic within the network to the appropriate devices. A home router is the gateway to all the devices within the home, and the business router is the gateway to all devices within the business.

Although IPv4 addresses will continue to work, what may eventually happen is the notion of the home router will go away. Devices might not rely on a local area network for internal addressing, but rather have their own connection to the internet. Local management of the devices might operate more like a mesh network within the home where all devices can communicate to one another — along the lines of what software-defined networking has done in other areas of networking. For the thermostat to “talk” to the smartphone, the smartphone must know the thermostat’s address. These types of technologies and connection requirements will make IPv6 more necessary.

The domain name system (DNS) will become more relevant in the world of IPv6 because no consumer, no matter how tech-savvy they are, will want to remember every address of every device in their house. Think of DNS as serving a role similar to that of a password manager which helps a user keep track of all their passwords. The trends we see today will take on new and interesting forms as IoT becomes more pervasive and as we gain more devices to control. Again, we can compare the current state of technology to what was happening in the ’70s and ’80s when there were many personal computer players, and new iterations of hardware, software and operating systems. It took Microsoft and Apple to step up and say, “this is what we’re doing” to move adoption along in a standard way. Right now, no one is ready to say when exactly we’ll cut over to IPv6 exclusively.

When someone figures out how to license IoT, and its protocols, they’ll be the next titan of industry. But that’s more challenging than it was in the era of the PC and Mac. The first word letter in IoT stands for internet, which is owned by no one and everyone at the same time. For the first time in history, we have a protocol not owned by any one person, entity or organization, and we’re using it to power devices that we never could have imagined having remote access to. Who would have thought we’d be able to start a car from 35 miles away, or set a home thermometer from another state or country?

The golden age of computing has evolved from hardware to software to online, and it’s only going to get more amorphous. What was merely a hobby has become a business necessity in five years. The internet turned a purpose-built machine that did specific tasks into a much more widespread, general-purpose machine that could do many things. Charles Sun, technology co-chair of the U.S. Federal IPv6 Task Force, said, and I agree, “Without the extensive global adoption and successful deployment of IPv6 as the primary version of the Internet Protocol, the IoT won’t be possible.”

All IoT Agenda network contributors are responsible for the content and accuracy of their posts. Opinions are of the writers and do not necessarily convey the thoughts of IoT Agenda.

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